Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Not Incompetence—Ideology

There was plenty of coverage Monday of the hearings before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (except, of course, on Nightline. They chose to tell a feel good story—I’m not kidding—about a day in March 2004 when US troops were ambushed in Sadr City. . . if you can imagine such a thing. . . to promote a new book by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz. . . and, no doubt, to counter the overwhelming bad press that the US military got today)—plenty of coverage of injured soldiers and their families telling harrowing tales of bad care and filthy conditions at the Army’s premiere medical facility. But as appropriate as it was to show what has happened to the people who were asked to sacrifice life and limb, by stopping the story there, the coverage really missed the point.

That point, as noticed by Oversight Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA), and noted on Monday by Paul Krugman, is that the scandalous conditions at Walter Reed (and no doubt other military or veterans’ facilities) are not the result of snafus, fuck-ups, or oversights (other use of the word, of course)—the entire horrible mess is a direct result of the reckless policies of the Bush Administration. It is not a testament to their incompetence—it is a test case for their ideology.

As Krugman observes, comparisons with the failures at FEMA after Hurricane Katrina are apt. The administration pinched pennies and privatized with abandon. They replaced competence with cronyism, all in pursuit of some sham dogma and the lining of each other’s pockets—the lives of the people they so easily put in harm’s way be damned.

The redoubtable Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, points out that IAP Worldwide Services, a company run by two former Halliburton executives, received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances: the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply.

The results of such “ideological” pursuits, predictable to the reality-based community, are made literally flesh by the testimony of veterans, just as they were by the pictures from New Orleans in 2005. This is not the failure of government, this is the failure of those who now govern.

I applaud most of the establishment media for finally coming around to the stories of neglect (though years, I’m afraid, after they were originally reported), but I am not content with the traditional Grand Guignol approach that they have taken. This is not just the heroic story of brave soldiers who have struggled against the system any more than it is the story of a few bad actors at the administrative level. Unfortunately (and unfortunately under-covered), this—like Katrina and Iraq as a whole—is the story of greedy, ideologically driven, and, at their core, craven leaders.

Do not let them off the hook by calling them incompetent.

(Cross-posted from my other blog, guy2k)


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